10 Apr 2023


Lost Capitol Hill: Adolf Cluss’s Trip North

Adolph Cluss

I recently gave a talk about the history of Eastern Market in its North Hall. Sadly, I was not able to cover everything I wanted to talk about, for the simple reason that I had 45 minutes, not several hours. So, herewith, another detail of the story of the market, and how its architect went on a junket to learn more about how markets are designed.

Adolph Cluss was given the job of designing the new market that the city wanted to build in what was then called East Washington. He was also, at the time, a building inspector, which would seem to be a slight conflict of interest, but that was the least of anyone’s worries at the time.

Cluss set to work and, in August of 1871, he showed off his first designs to a group of people who owned market stalls, and would be the main customers for the new market. While overall there were few complaints, most agreed that the size of each stand – ten by six feet – was simply too small.

Cluss took this criticism to heart, but instead of simply increasing the size, decided that more research was necessary. He assembled a committee of market stallholders, and planned a trip to New York, Philadelphia, and Boston to examine their markets. The planning was soon expanded to include Baltimore and New Brunswick. While the articles do not specify, this is most likely the city in New Jersey, halfway between New York and Philadelphia. The committee invited Joseph Carroll along as well.

Lexington Market at about the time of Cluss’s visit (LOC)

A month later, Cluss released his report, parts of which were excerpted in the Washington Evening Star. Most of the article is given over the a description of the Lexington and Richmond Markets in Baltimore. The former had recently been rebuilt, while the latter was being replaced at the time. The rest of the cities were gone through in one final paragraph, though the description of a market in New York was an excellent example of what not to do:

[T]he city of New York has lately erected the most imposing market house on the continents, being 350 feet in length, 165 in width, of lofty height, and with ample light and ventilation. It was also stated that for various reasons, principally on account of its illy chosen location on the banks of the East river and sandwiched between two gas factories, the institution did not flourish, Combinations of the occupying dealers to raise prices beyond those of the stores in the neighborhood have since aggravated the case and temporarily killed the enterprise. The public shunned the dirty surroundings, the dealers had to give up, and the modern coliseum was on the market morning of the visit of the committee occupied by a single dealer, a butcher, who had not enough meat on his stall for the wants of a small boarding house.

Cluss seems to have taken all of this into account, including the reports by the “butchers and dealers” that were sent in around this time, and by early October of 1871, his plans were completed to the point where there was a request for proposals for the building of the market could be published.

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